He is the most outrageous man in football
HE’S the most outrageous man in football — perhaps the most ambitious. But he’s without doubt the most outspoken, with the courage to put millions of his money where his big mouth is.
George Reynolds took over Darlington Football Club with three pledges to the fans. He would pay off the club’s debts — and he did, with £5 million of his own cash.
He would build a new, all-seater stadium — and, once again, it’s all been done with his own money.
And he would power Darlo into the Premier League.
It hasn’t happened yet — but, as George is fond of proclaiming, “That guy Al Fayed did it, and all he’s got is a grocer’s shop in London!”
That’s typical George mischief. He knows Mohamed Al Fayed well, and he admires the way Mo lifted Fulham FC to the top.
He also made a point of buying all the furnishings for his magnificent new home from Harrods — none of which will stop him from tweaking Mo’s tail at every opportunity.
I’m glad Darlington are still in the Third Division, because that gives me the chance each year to take my Exeter team up the M1 to do battle with George’s boys, and get an earful of his banter.
I told him yesterday that he should walk out onto the pitch before home games and psych up the crowd with his jokes and stories.
He’s hilariously funny, but he’s also inspirational.
“I was the third-best safe-cracker in Europe,” he told me, seriously, “but I can’t have been that good, can I, because I got caught.
“I was inside, doing time, and I thought, George, you’ve made a bad start. You’re a crook, but if you learn to play the establishment at their own game, you’ll be unstoppable.
“I was dyslexic as a kid, you see, couldn’t hardly read or write.
“They said I was backward, retarded, mentally deficient.
“I thought, right, that’s all I need to be a captain of industry.”
George launched a kitchens fitting firm on his release, and ran it with the maverick style which gets the best from employees and players alike.
“I’m tough, but I’m fair. One morning, I found one of the machine operators had scratched his name on a major piece of equipment.
“I was livid. I could have sacked him, but that wouldn’t have helped anyone.
“So, I went outside, found his car in the parking lot, and scratched my name on the bonnet. I never had a problem with people defacing the machinery again.”
His wife, Sue, is the only person who truly has the measure of him.
She was the mastermind behind the purchase of all those Harrods furnishings, which have made their house a palace.
She’s studying Information Technology at college.
I’m astounded, because keeping George in hand must be a full-time job.
“He speaks from the heart, but he’s to be more careful what he says,” she sighs.
I teased him that I’d lost the key to my office safe — would he come over and blow it open for me? George’s face lit up.
“When I was done with a safe,” he bragged, “you could still close the door, except for one I did when the door went through the roof.
“It’ll all be in my autobiography, which is going to be called George Reynolds: Cracked It.
“I started blowing safes up in small companies.
“I did plcs, because there was no difference between them and me. They robbed people with Parker pens instead of sticks of gelignite, that’s all.”
He’s absolutely sincere. I trust him to blow open the door to the Premiership, too.
The protests against war in Iraq have been stirring and the arguments convincing – but as I watched Muhammad Ali talk with Sir David Frost, I realised that no one has made such a strong and simple statement against carnage as the three-times world heavyweight champion.
Ordered to sign up for America’s disastrous conflict in South-East asia, the Champ declared: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.”
He was stripped of his title belt and thrown into prison for that – but when he was freed, Ali had the determination and the willpower to take back what was his. And history is his judge: Sir David told Ali frankly that much of the world reveres this 61-year-old sportsman, now ravaged by Parkinson’s Disease, as the ultimate hero.
History did not make that judgement of Richard Nixon or Henry Kissinger. And I doubt, too, that ‘ultimate hero’ will be the verdict of future generations on Bush or Blair.
I met Ali in the late 70s, and was amazed by the intensity of his presence. He had the most burning stare I’d ever seen. His eyes were like lasers, and I simply could not hold his gaze. When he saw that I presented no challenge, he started laughing and joking with me, and took time out from his training.
“I want to do that, how do you do that?” he kept repeating after I had demonstrated spoon-bending. “I believe I could do that too!”
I believe he could, as well. Such was the strength of his mind, I believe Ali could do anything he wanted. No wonder he is the role model of billions.
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